How To Shop For A Bathing Suit When You’re Not That Skinny

Shopping for a bathing suit is a hellish endeavor, regardless of your size. The fitting rooms are small, weird and equipped with horrific lighting and mirrors that make you look like fresh hell. If you’re a straight size  — aka nothing bigger than a 16 or so — shopping for bathing suits might be slightly less horrible. Should you choose to accept the challenge, you could find a bathing suit in 15 minutes. So, if you’re an hour out from catching the Jitney to the Hamptons and need an emergency bikini, you can waltz into Forever 21, eyeball a rack of neon-patterned nylon and be on the 5:45 to Southhampton without a second thought. This is a privilege of the thin. It is a privilege that I dream of. Swimsuit shopping for me, and all the other women who are just a little bigger than what’s out there, have it a little harder.

I’ve been on the hunt for a bikini. I have a bare minimum of requirements: not frumpy, not a tankini, patterned or floral, something that celebrates my body as it is, instead of masking it in excessive ruching and control panels. I’ve found a lot of garbage in actual stores, so I’ve turned to the great equalizer, the internet. This is what sucks the most about this process. Like shopping for anything, being able to throw the damn thing on your body and to know what it looks like on is essential. So, if the options don’t exist for you in stores, you’re left to the quagmire of online shopping, scrolling through endless websites and cross-Googling bloggers who maybe tried on the same bathing suit and posted a picture of their actual, real bodies for you to look at.

Pictures can only do so much. If you’re going to buy something like this without trying it on,  you need to get intimate with a measuring tape and not be upset by the numbers you see. This is how wide your hips are. This is the measurement of your real waist. This is how wide your ribcage is, breasts included. Don’t let these numbers make you sad, because honestly, no one will know. It won’t be printed across the ass of the new hotness you’re about to buy, so just let it ride, homie.

What To Look For

Everyone likes different things when it comes to bathing suits, but here are some rules that have helped me when looking for something that won’t make me feel like a mom.

  • Bra sizing in tops: I want a top with support, that won’t make my tits look like shitty pancakes, smashed against my ribcage, one that will potentially stay on my body even if I go swimming. I want at least an 85 percent chance that it won’t come off in the water. Also, I want underwire so my boobs stay lifted.
  • The ability to order different sizes for the top and the bottom: My butt is bigger than my upper half. Let me pick my own destiny, please.
  • A nice, high waist: Yes, I am putting on a bikini, but I would like it very much if my stomach were kinda covered. Thank you.

Where To Get It

Old Navy: They have a pretty robust bathing suit section, though their bikini tops favor the extremely body-confident or those with breasts lifted either artificially or by the grace of god. I’ve bought bikinis here, but regretted it the moment I emerged from the ocean, blinded by saltwater and suddenly topless on a beach full of children. However, if you want a really cute one-piece that won’t make you look like a giant child, you’re in luck. This floral number is very retro without making you look like a pinup model, and this confetti print thing has real, actual straps, and dips nice and low in the back, right above your booty shelf. Just be careful if you go swimming…

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Torrid: I never, ever shop at Torrid. I kind of associate it with crappy clubwear and weird business casual, but I am pleasantly surprised to see that it has upped its game. I’m not entirely mad at these overall-short things, or this skirt. Anyway! Their bathing suit selection is pretty decent. Not too expensive, without looking so cheap that it will fall apart the minute you enter the water. See? This one looks fine, right? It’s colorful and fun and not matronly and shitty. 

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ModCloth: ModCloth’s selection of plus size clothing is a little twee for my taste, and features way too many things printed with whimsy, but they have a nice selection of plus-sized swimsuits. So, here is an Esther Williams bikini that is sold out right now, but I am sure it will come back. Also, they make a one-piece version, which I think looks cuter and appears to be more supportive. Buy both! Indulge all your Taylor Swift fantasies. I won’t judge.

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Figleaves: Whatever size your boobs are, Figleaves most likely has a bra that’ll fit you. And, the bra won’t be a hideous, flesh-colored torture device. They make cute ones! For girls with boobs that don’t want to feel like they’re old women walking around with their tits gently bumping their knees!  The same applies for their bathing suits. You can search by bra size, and their selection is giant, so there is most likely something in here that’ll work. Here, I found this adorable floral number that goes up to a size 18 in the bottoms, and a 38G in the top.

FIGLEAVESForever 21: I associate Forever21 with $7 jeans that trail synthetic threads like unintentional fringe, but I do have a pair of shorts I got there last summer that have not spontaneously combusted yet, so maybe times are changing.  Their bathing suits are adorable. Like, I gasped at this tropical, fruit-splashed number, and I love this mesh-paneled, abstract thing.  A word to the wise: Try on every single size they have at the store, if you manage to find these at your local. I feel like it changes with each bathing suit, so be prepared to try on a lot of things before you find the one that fits you.

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ASOS Curve: God bless ASOS. They have a really killer selection of plus size clothing that is actually attractive and cute and sort of reasonably priced. Look at these pants and this pastel cheetah print nightmare/daydream shift dress, both of which are sitting in my cart right now, just waiting to be bought. But! Look at their bathing suits. Right now the selection is a little slim, only because it’s still winter, but here, I found you two pretty suits: This mesh and black power bitch one-piece, and this floral garden-party bikini.

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SwimsuitsForAll: The holy grail of plus-sized bathing suit shopping, hands down. Blogger Gabi Fresh has her own line of swimsuits through SwimsuitsForAll, and they are all incredible. There’s this teal and pink jellyfish print bikini, that’s longline on the top and high waisted on the bottom. There’s this palm print two piece, with gold zippers on the hip that feels like the kind of thing best worn while smizing behind some killer shades on a chaise lounge with a lot of lipstick. This is also the home of the #CurvesForAll campaign, the one that’s featured in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, with model Ashley Graham. So yes, if you want that black string bikini she’s wearing in the ad, you can get it right here. They always have a ton of sales, and will just throw you discount codes willy-nilly, so get in while the gettin’s good and find your bliss. 

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[Photo via Shutterstock]